OMAHA, Nebraska – Drought can add additional concern for hunters. This is for populations of large game such as deer and bighorn sheep.
EHD, or epizootic hemorrhagic illness.
“It is a virus conveyed by gnats,” explained Luke Meduna, manager of the large game program for Nebraska Game and Parks. “Therefore, when drought circumstances exist, you tend to generate mud flood conditions that are favorable for gnats, and when drought conditions exist, EHD tends to concentrate on deer near shallow water sources.”
According to Meduna, gnats and midges are responsible for transmitting the virus from animal to animal. During a drought, animals also gather instinctively near water sources. And because severe thirst is one of the symptoms of EHD, sick animals will infect herds that are otherwise dehydrated.
The two worst years that Meduna remembers are 2006 and 2012 In 2006, a new viral strain killed white-tailed deer in the central and eastern United States. In 2012, EHD wiped off approximately one-third of the state’s whitetail deer population.
The symptoms are unpleasant, but they are not usually obvious from a distance. According to NGP, the condition is characterized by “high fever, internal bleeding, swelling, lesions, lethargy, elevated heart rate, dehydration, salivation, incoordination, and lack of fear of people.”
“Most of the time, you won’t see sick deer; you’ll just find deer carcasses, which are typically clustered around water,” said Meduna. “If it’s going to kill them, it usually kills them fairly quickly, so if you find one in the process of dying, they’re often simply standing there oblivious to what’s happening. Frequently, they will be standing in or near water; this is the true common denominator.”
The symptoms and distribution are comparable to what is known as bluetongue disease, which appears to spread more rapidly in cattle, making it difficult for farmers to distinguish between the two diseases based on symptoms alone.
The disease does not directly impact humans, although in rare circumstances, domestic dogs have been afflicted, according to Meduna.
“Other animals, sheep, llamas, and even horses can be slightly susceptible to EHD, but white tails are often the most affected,” explained Meduna. Last year, we captured six bighorns that tested positive for the disease, as well as a handful of pronghorn.
Wildlife officials in Nebraska and Iowa recommend contacting any local wildlife office if you observe ill large game animals or unexplained deaths. Monitoring the disease and its effects may prevent a disastrous impact on the population of large game.
If you kill a deer during hunting season that appears to have EHD, according to Meduna, it is still safe to consume.
“There is no risk to humans, it has no effect on the meat, and when it hits them, they die really quickly,” he stated. Even if they are in the active stages of the disease, it has little effect on people, making the meat harmless.